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In "Thanks for All the Fish", Fenchurch finds the Hitchhiker's Guide which Arthur left in her brother's car when Arthur was...well...hichhiking. She reads about the places in the book and asks Arthur about them when he randomly shows up at her house. The book even points out the "DONT PANIC" text at that point. Neither character, during this conversation, has a Babel fish install in their ears yet both are apparently able to read the alien work.

Why was Fenchurch, specifically, able to read the Guide?

(Note: this is clearly not a duplicate of my Babel fish question as neither character has a Babel fish as stated above.)

  • This question seems a bit too much like your other one: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/105635/… I'm not sure how to answer one without answering the other, I'm going to vote to close. – Plutor Oct 21 '15 at 19:02
  • @Plutor They were one but separated into three at request by Richard. In general, I don't question him on how to do things at this site. – kaine Oct 21 '15 at 19:04
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    @Plutor - Not really, since the question explictly asks about how people without Babel fish are able to read it. – Valorum Oct 21 '15 at 19:04
  • @Plutor, this answer is now properly answered while the other is not to my satisfaction (ideas but no proof). This means it clearly doesn't "already have an answer" there. – kaine Oct 21 '15 at 19:35
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The implication is that the Hitchiker's Guide is able to self-translate itself for readers. When Ford initially hands it to Arthur (prior to putting a Babel fish in his ear), the text turns from "characters" into readable English after he presses a few buttons.

A screen, about three inches by four, lit up and characters began to flicker across the surface.

"You want to know about Vogons, so I enter that name so." His fingers tapped some more keys. "And there we are."

The words Vogon Constructor Fleets flared in green across the screen.

Assuming it's now preset to "English-mode", that would also explain how Fenchurch is able to read it in the later novel.


As to when the Guide itself learned to speak English, this was possibly from scanning and studying its environment (unlikely) or simply that Ford, or one of the earlier researchers, inputted an English dictionary at the same time they uploaded their journal entries about life on Earth (far more likely).

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  • But he had the Babel fish at this time and you argue that that fish can translate text. This, therefore, cannot be used for evidence. (I do agree though. I think English was added to the guide when it was expanded to include Ford's much larger description of planet earth. I am not aware of any proof of this theory though.) – kaine Oct 21 '15 at 19:12
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    @kaine - you are mistaken. This is several minutes before Ford found the fish in a handy jar nearby. – Valorum Oct 21 '15 at 19:14
  • Ah really? Ok then that is exactly the kind of evidence I was hoping for. That means either it is in English (for some insanely improbable (but this is Adams) reason) or you are right and it has built in Babel fish-like properties. – kaine Oct 21 '15 at 19:16
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Presumably she can read it the same way that Arthur can read it. How that is is never specified, but it's not the Babel Fish. That's explicitly for spoken communication only:

The practical upshot of all this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any form of language. The speech patterns you actually hear decode the brainwave matrix which has been fed into your mind by your Babel fish.

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  • I would love to see that arguement on the other question: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/105635/… – kaine Oct 21 '15 at 18:41
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    Note: this doesn't say that it can't do more that hearing but this canon explanation requires the presence of brainwave which text (and I guess examples of speech) don't. – kaine Oct 21 '15 at 18:42
  • The brainwave part was handwaved a bit. Arthur understood the millions-of-years-old recording from Magrathea, for instance. – Plutor Oct 21 '15 at 19:02
  • And wasn't God's Last Message To His Creation also in English? English is probably the universal language. Edit: Oh, I hadn't seen the other question yet. – Mr Lister Oct 21 '15 at 19:29
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    @MrLister - There's a mention that Arthur can't read Magrathean text. No explanation is given why this is, especially since he was able to read it earlier; "The thing that had been causing all this neural upset was a network of shadows in the ice, about eighteen inches beneath the surface. Looked at it from the right angle they resolved into the solid shapes of letters from an alien alphabet, each about three feet high; and for those, like Arthur, who couldn't read Magrathean there was above the letters the outline of a face hanging in the ice." – Valorum Oct 21 '15 at 19:42

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